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Matsuura Got Rhythm: The State Of NanaOn-Sha's Founder
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Matsuura Got Rhythm: The State Of NanaOn-Sha's Founder

January 28, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 8 Next

And I was just curious -- this is not about NanaOn-Sha, but -- it seems there are a lot of companies that do sort-of "stealth production." Or, the strategy where a company will start up, and they only work on parts of games for other people. This seems to happen a lot in Japan. Often, these companies don't put their name on the product. They're very quiet, small companies, that just work on small pieces of production.

I just wonder how that came about; how that happened. Companies like Tose -- it's a huge company, but there are a lot of smaller ones that have been around for like 25 years or so, but people mostly don't know about them. I don't know -- I just wonder how that environment came up in Japan, where often prototyping is not really done.

MM: Yeah, yeah, it's a very important question. It requires thought.

Basically, small productions -- just making the program, instead of having innovative ideas or strategies -- many of them have started their businesses from the 8-bit ages. So in the beginning of the 8-bit world, we had many small companies. And fortunately, some of them are still doing their business -- and some of them are already growing, like Tose.

So two types of game development companies exist in this country, but I believe that most of them will not do prototyping. So these types of companies, are basically from the 8-bit culture. So, basically they have some logic of the game ideas, and they are improving the original model in keeping their business, making a sequel -- or similar variations [on their older ideas]. This may be the first [evolutionary] stage of the game development style.

I don't know how many generations are existing right now, but maybe we are the third or fourth or something like that. So we are working [with] much more horizontal dimensions.

Right. I don't know if the same terminology is used in Japan, but in certain types of development, like agile methodologies, a "vertical slice" encompasses design, prototype, programming, and code, and then audio, and it's just one slice of everything, complete and in-game. But in Japan, you just do the one layer of programming, and one layer of art, one layer of design, all simultaneously and not in discreet chunks, right?

MM: Yes. Right. So I'll show you: in the early prototyping, basically I don't set a certain mission for the workers; I ask people to make their own ideas of the game, by having the basic element I just told you. So for example: using [the character] Tamagotchi's properties, or think about kids, for example. Well, of course there are kids, but maybe many of them will be female, or a year later, your ideas have to go overseas, for example.

So, for these kinds of basic refinements, I just talk to the staff, and everybody starts to build, and make their own ideas, and I [create a] presentation for them in discussing how their idea is great or not. And discussing each other['s ideas fosters] teamwork and cooperation.

So, finally, in many cases, I have to set a certain game ideas at the end, but many people already know how they have to work with people. So this kind of style is very comfortable for me -- maybe to [other] people too.

It's interesting to me that some of those companies did have their own ideas, earlier, but didn't make it into later generations. Some companies, like Tamsoft -- they did Toshinden games for PlayStation. Very popular back then, but now they only make games for D3, like Simple Series budget games. It's just interesting: some of these companies were totally at the top -- back then, Tamsoft had like 120 people, and now they're down to 60 or something like that. I don't know, it's really interesting to me. With the new hardware evolutions, it seems like some people are not able to adapt to new markets, so perhaps smaller companies are better in that situation.

MM: Yeah. Small, but very powerful and strong company. (laughs)

Well, companies that have a name. It seems like, in a way, your situation is kind of lucky, because the games you made earlier were different, or with music, or more casual, and Nintendo said, "OK, we have to broaden the market." And then after they said it, everyone else said, "OK, we have to broaden the market." And already, your company was able to do this sort of thing; and so, when people think, "Oh, what companies are already able to do this?" You are a company they would think of.

MM: Yes, that's true. We have to keep increasing the chance to make more unique titles, but for us it's getting much more difficult because the game market -- especially in Japan -- is still very conservative. Many people know that the DS has very unique titles, like Brain Training, or something like that, but it's not for younger-aged market. It's kind of older people, like me. So, about the young aged market: still very conservative. So these kinds of things are very important for us.

That's not as true in the U.S., though.

MM: Yeah, I know. And also, we have to focus on the worldwide market simultaneously. At the start of development, there are many developers that don't have to care about the overseas market, because the Japanese market is powerful enough to keep their business. But, now it's not so powerful.

Right. Especially with next-gen consoles.

MM: That's right. So this is a very big point. Actually, the offers to make new game titles are getting increased from the overseas publishers.

Oh really?

MM: Yes. So we had to think about American kids or European kids... (laughs)

Is that difficult from here?

MM: Of course.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 8 Next

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